Demerger trick: A velvet glove to cover an iron fist

CLEVER communicators use mitigating words to try and lend a velvet glove to their iron fist. ‘Increase in interest rates’ is painful to hear. Therefore, ‘upward revision’ is invented. ‘Surgery’ is intimidating. Sugarcoat it by saying ‘procedure’ and it sounds less threatening.

Published: 17th September 2013 11:39 AM  |   Last Updated: 17th September 2013 11:40 AM   |  A+A-

CLEVER communicators use mitigating words to try and lend a velvet glove to their iron fist. ‘Increase in interest rates’ is painful to hear. Therefore, ‘upward revision’ is invented. ‘Surgery’ is intimidating. Sugarcoat it by saying ‘procedure’ and it sounds less threatening.

The invention of the term ‘demerger’ by the Telangana separatists belongs to the same genre. Instead of saying division of Andhra Pradesh, they are making efforts to give currency to ‘demerger’ of Andhra Pradesh.

Their intention is to make ‘division’ look legitimate, natural, necessary, inasmuch as it is the inevitable manifest destiny of the Telugu people by terming it as ‘demerger’.

Gautam Pingle’s article (The New Indian Express, 16-9-2013) tries to do this. ‘Division’ of Andhra Pradesh calls for a debate, a rigorous examination of historical, economic and cultural arguments advanced by the separatist ideologues. But ‘demerger’ saves them that trouble and shrewdly guards their lame arguments from a searching interrogation. They can also be arbitrary in choosing the area and time. This discourse does not claim the demerger of AP to reconstitute the entire Nizam’s dominion and Hyderabad State as on 1956. It also chooses not the 1820s Nizam’s Telugu territories but only the territories of the 1950s for their political project.

Pingle’s point that since 1947 political geography of India has changed is right. But it actually undermines his main thesis if the underlying theme of those changes is understood. These changes have worked out to redraw the political map of the Indian Republic with the linguistic state as the defining principle of its architecture. So much so that today from Bengal on the east and along the coast of the Bay of Bengal and all along the coast of the Arabian Sea on the west up to Gujarat and in to the north including Punjab, Haryana, and Himachal Pradesh we find states formed on linguistic basis. Pingle is selective in citing the examples of state formation in the past. His attempt to show the changes in the political geography of non-linguistic Hindi-speaking states as akin to the purported changes in the political geography of linguistic states is conceptually erroneous. It probably is a shrewd gambit.

In understanding the nature of protests against the division of the state, strangely, Pingle seems to be comfortable in the company of the decision makers in Delhi and the political leaders in the state. They all seem to be labouring under the false notion that opposition to division is predicated on apprehensions of loss of revenues, job opportunities, Hyderabad, sharing of river waters and other resources.  He seems to be under the impression that the agitation is because people in the coastal and Rayalaseema regions feel ‘that their existence and livelihoods are threatened’ by the division of the state. The bulk of his essay, therefore, reads like a surrogate preamble to the Antony Committee report with an elaborate recital of solutions as well as a generous dose of patronizing advice that ‘one cannot be afraid of what is known, experienced and implemented in the past’.

If he pays a bit more of attention to the protests, he will surely understand that there is a complete disconnect between the ‘loss of livelihoods’ thesis and the discourse on the ground level. Political leaders will also benefit from keeping their ear to the ground rather than live in their make believe world.

People who oppose the division are questioning the rationale of the decision to divide the state. Their discourse is much larger and deeper than some separatist ideologues could grasp. They are not opposing the division because they see a threat to their ‘livelihoods’. They see no reason for breaking the unity of Telugu people. Pingle first invents ‘fear’ and is very uncharacteristically condescending in describing it as being ‘nurtured by ignorance and deception’. He is actually addressing a non-existent issue. Like the politicians in this tragedy Pingle also seems to be completely disconnected from the integrationist discourse.

Perhaps Pingle uses the word ‘settler’ unwittingly even when he uses it repeatedly in his article. That the term is a throwback to neo-fascist 1970s Shiv Sena type of political discourse is not unknown to him, I guess. If he used it unwittingly, it is unfortunate. But if he used it deliberately, it is quite tragic. This is where the velvet glove comes off and reveals the menacing iron fist. For, it betrays ‘they - us’ mindset.   This is precisely what is being challenged in the upsurge for integration and movement against the division of Andhra Pradesh. It is a self-serving formulation of the separatist discourse to show the turmoil in the state as Telangana Vs Rest of Andhra Pradesh. But it is not. It is Integration Vs Division.

If Pingle is honest in his belief that ‘… we are each citizens of the Republic of India, and the Constitution, government and law guarantee our legitimate rights and protect our lives and liberties’ he should go back to the basics and question the very rationale of division. However, if he sticks to the ‘demerger’ trickery, he will not be able to. But if he looks at what is attempted now as ‘division’ he cannot but interrogate its rationale.

(Dr Parakala Prabhakar is a political commentator based in Hyderabad and the founding general secretary of Visalandhra Mahasabha)

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